None of the titles -- nor actually the French original which yet another of the English translations also kept as the title -- can quite capture the sprawling story; indeed, in their efforts at a sort of pinpointing they miss, or at least mislead about the much bigger story. The story of The Black Sheep begins with Dr. Rouget, in the city of Issoudun. He has a son, Jean-Jacques, and then a daughter, Agathe. He dotes only on Jean-Jacques -- but keeps the boy and then the man very much under his thumb.
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None of the titles -- nor actually the French original which yet another of the English translations also kept as the title -- can quite capture the sprawling story; indeed, in their efforts at a sort of pinpointing they miss, or at least mislead about the much bigger story.
The story of The Black Sheep begins with Dr. Rouget, in the city of Issoudun. He has a son, Jean-Jacques, and then a daughter, Agathe.
He dotes only on Jean-Jacques -- but keeps the boy and then the man very much under his thumb. Over the years until then, Agathe has a much harder time of it in Paris.
Losing her husband, she struggles to raise her two boys on her limited funds. Made for the military life he enjoys brief success, as his father had, under Napoleon, but with the change of regime refuses to serve under the Bourbons. He is, and remains: "coarse, rowdy, and actually without any merit other than the vulgar bravado of a dashing cavalry officer", but Agathe remains blind to his faults for a long time.
Typically for this wide-ranging novel, Balzac treats the expedition as barely more than a brief tangent, hardly having anything to say about it even as it surely offers material for novels of equal length. Philippe loses money, steals money -- even from his family -- and gambles away money, without the least qualms. And at least Joseph earns a bit of money as he hones his craft, and is -- perhaps a bit over-optimistically -- certain of a brighter future. So the scene shifts from Paris to Issoudun, as Agathe returns there with Joseph to see what exactly is going on, and what they can do.
Jean-Jacques is indeed completely under the spell of the bewitching Fisherwoman Flore -- but she has meanwhile also managed to install the love of her life, another no-good rascal named Maxence Gilet, in the household. Max leads a local group who call themselves the Knights of Idleness, and Balzac has good fun describing the nasty tricks they play on the locals. Together, Flore and Max see wonderful opportunities for fleecing Jean-Jacques out of much or all of his sizeable fortune.
The Black Sheep is crammed with lives and events, and often Balzac rushes to explain years of life and mis fortunes in the smallest spaces. Many characters disappear from view, are shoved into the background, or meet success and failure off-stage. Yet elsewhere he goes into minute detail. What he also enjoys is describing in detail the nasty betrayals and cruel more-than-pranks that characters such as Philippe and Max get up to.
Inventive and often almost unbearably cruel, Balzac presents the misdeeds of these immoral hearts particularly well. Modern conventions suggest The Black Sheep is almost unacceptably messy -- in how the story shifts, and how characters in turn move to the fore and are cast aside.
The focus seems to get lost occasionally, Balzac getting caught up in what seems incidental minutiae. Orthofer, 17 March
Plot summary[ edit ] The action of the novel is divided between Paris and Issoudun. Agathe Rouget, who was born in Issoudun, was sent by her father, Doctor Rouget to be raised by her maternal relatives, the Descoings in Paris. Doctor Rouget suspects wrongly that he is not her true father. In Paris, she marries a man named Bridau, and they have two sons, Philippe, and Joseph. Philippe, the elder son is shown to be a courageous soldier, but is also a heavy drinker and gambler. He resigns from the army after the Bourbon Restoration out of loyalty to Napoleon.
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